In Vladimir de Fontenay's Mobile Homes, Imogen Poots gives a performance of such multifaceted distinction that it might be hard to believe you're watching the same actress from frame to frame. Her character, a young, unwed, transient mother, is an unsettling bundle of paradoxes. Her parenting ranges from alarmingly hands-off (she lets her 8-year-old son run wild, confident he'll know how and when to return) to fiercely nurturing (she stitches up the injury prone boy's wounds, with crack, tough-love precision).
On the surface, her Ali is an unglamorous figure, with unkempt hair and a predilection for parkas and stretchy, stripey pants (the backdrop is bleak, wintry, rural upstate New York). But that downtrodden look belies a lusty spirit. Her wayward boyfriend Evan (a superb, feral Callum Turner) pushes her and the kid around as they hawk gear, deal drugs, "dine and dash" and trespass into motels to survive. But while she is often frightened and taciturn around Evan, she's a sporadic sparrer; when he veers from irresponsible to endangering, she holds her own.
The most intoxicating scenes concern the push-pull power dynamic of their relationship. The sex is violent yet playful; in a pool dalliance involving light choking, Poots pretends to suffocate, then breaks out laughing. De Fontenay keeps the camerawork loose and up-close, pressing us into these capricious characters' heads. They have no time for reflection; their unit would simply fall apart.
Mobile Homes is propelled by grisly sequences, like a truck wreck and a cockfight involving razor blades. And the tumultuous final shot -- a forceful, unexpected, yet loving embrace -- quakes like a sacked quarterback.